Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids Calls on ILO to Finally Sever Ties with Deadly Tobacco Industry

Statement of Mark Hurley, International Director of Tobacco Industry Campaigns, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
June 07, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has joined more than 100 public health and sustainable development groups around the world in calling on the International Labor Organization (ILO) – a United Nations (UN) agency - to finally cut ties with the tobacco industry.

Tobacco companies use membership in respected organizations like the ILO to portray themselves as responsible corporate citizens when in fact they are the root cause of a global tobacco epidemic that is projected to kill one billion people worldwide this century. Tobacco companies continue to aggressively market their deadly products to children and other vulnerable populations around the world, to mislead the public about the health risks of their products and to attack nearly every effort to reduce tobacco use and save lives. Tobacco companies that spread death and disease across the globe should have no place in a UN agency, or any responsible organization.  

In fact, the World Health Organization – another UN agency – administers an international tobacco control treaty called the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) which states that the tobacco industry’s interests are in clear conflict with public health goals. As long as the ILO allows tobacco industry members, it will be out of step with the 181 parties to the FCTC and other UN agencies.

If the ILO is to live up to its promise of promoting rights at work, encouraging decent employment opportunities and enhancing social protection, the decision should be an easy one: The governing body cannot continue its existing relationships with the tobacco-industry dominated group, Eliminating Child Labor in Tobacco-Growing (ECLT) or with Japan Tobacco International. Both relationships are formalized by contracts with the ILO set to expire in June and December 2018 respectively. 

The ECLT is a front group for tobacco industry interests under the guise of a corporate social responsibility initiative. ECLT was co-founded by British American Tobacco, the world largest publicly traded tobacco company, and represents an alliance of tobacco companies and growers - led exclusively by members of the tobacco industry. In fact, in 2016 every member of the board came from tobacco. The ILO is also listed as a “board advisor” to the group.

The ILO must sever these ties to protect the interest and mission of the organization. Over the past year, the ILO has faced repeated calls to end all partnerships with tobacco companies. Even the ILO Secretariat authored a report in support of such action. Yet, the organization has failed to hold a formal vote on the issue. As the debate continues, the ILO must not renew the ECLT and Japan Tobacco contracts until a formal policy on tobacco companies can be established.

The ILO should join other international organizations and agencies by letting the existing contracts expire and ban all members of the tobacco industry from further participation in the ILO.